Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN)

The Role of Agriculture in Development: implications for sub-saharan Africa
Xinshen Diao, Peter Hazell, Danielle Resnick and James Thurlow
International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)

Acknowledgements: FANRPAN acknowledges the IFRI website as the source of this report:


This report provides a nuanced perspective on debates about the potential for Africa’s smallholder agriculture to stimulate growth and alleviate poverty in an increasingly integrated world. In particular, the report synthesizes both the traditional theoretical and empirical literature on the role of agriculture in the development process and discusses more recent literature that reflects skepticism about the development potential of agriculture for Africa. To examine in greater detail the relevance for Africa of both the “old” and “new” literatures on agriculture, the report provides a typology of African countries based on their stage of development, agricultural conditions, natural resources, and geographic location. This typology highlights that the growth and poverty-reduction potential of agriculture varies substantially across the continent. Moreover, the typology provides the framework for in-depth analysis of agriculture and growth–poverty linkages in five countries (Ethiopia, Ghana, Rwanda, Uganda, and Zambia) via economywide, macro–micro linkage models.

The report shows that despite recent skepticism, agricultural growth is still important for most low-income African countries. The empirical analysis in the various country case studies finds that the pro-growth and pro-poor performance of agriculture will continue to depend on the broad participation of smallholder farmers, and that food staple growth generates more poverty reduction than other agricultural subsectors do. In an increasingly globalized world, however, African farmers face new and different challenges than those encountered by Asian and Latin American countries during their successful transformations. The ability of African farmers to find pathways out of poverty and to contribute actively to the growth process depends on improving infrastructure and education, distributing key technologies and inputs, and promoting producer and marketing organizations that link small farmers to new market chains. African farmers cannot overcome these constraints on their own, and there is a need in the short term for greater public sector involvement in many African countries than is currently fashionable. The challenge is therefore to develop new institutional arrangements between the public and private sectors that foster private sector development without leaving smallholder farmers isolated during the transition.

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